It is a nine-hour bus ride from Terre Haute to Wichita. The Shockers’ play in Sunday’s series finale will decide whether it is merely unpleasant or if each of the roughly 600 miles are excruciating.
After losing two games to Indiana State on Saturday, Wichita State is in desperate need of salvage job on Sunday at Warn Field. The Sycamores pitchers dominated in the 3-0 and 3-2 wins by holding the Shockers to eight hits and an 0-for-13 performance with runners in scoring position.
Coach Todd Butler’s main message after the game: A sweep is not acceptable.
“You’ve got to a least take one,” WSU right fielder Garrett Bayliff said. “It’s bad enough that we lost the series. At least make the bus trip back a little bit better.”
Butler’s other message: Somebody needs to get a clutch hit.
WSU (16-13, 2-3 Missouri Valley Conference) stranded 12 runners in the doubleheader. It struck out 10 times in the opener, seven looking, and failed to take advantage of five walks by starter David Stagg. In the second game, WSU had a runner thrown out at home with no outs in the second inning and didn’t score until Casey Gillaspie’s seventh-inning home run.
“The worst two games we’ve played, I think, of the season,” Butler said. “Offensively, we’re not very good right now.”
Indiana State (20-7, 4-4) pounded that point with two quality starters.
Stagg, a lefty, battled out of jams, moved his fastball around and neutralized WSU’s left-handed hitters at the top of the order. Leadoff hitter Tanner Dearman struck out three times, all looking. Bayliff struck out twice. That kept Gillaspie from being much of a factor because only once did he bat with a runner on base.
“It’s big, because (Gillaspie) is a good hitter and he’ll move them around the bases,” Stagg said.
Stagg struck out nine, six looking. WSU’s best chance came in the third with one out. Bayliff and Gillaspie singled and moved to scoring position on a double steal. Dayne Parker popped out to second base and Simpson struck out to end the inning.
“He was kind of hiding the ball a little bit and working in and out,” Bayliff said.
In the second game, Indiana State’s Brad Lombard held WSU to four hits and walking one over eight innings. The Shockers missed chances to score early and Lombard retired 12 in a row before Gillaspie led off the seventh with his blast to right field on a change-up.
WSU tied it 2-all in the seventh, but did no more damage after Daniel Kihle scored the tying run on a groundout by Dayne Parker. Chase Simpson walked in the ninth, the only Shocker to reach base in the final two innings.
Indiana State retook the lead in the bottom of the seventh against WSU’s bullpen. Butler took starter Cale Elam out after five innings because he took a line drive by Tyler Wampler off his right elbow. Elam finished the fourth inning, but the bruise started to bother him in the dugout after the fifth inning.
“It was tightening up,” Butler said. “It scares you to pitch him any more.”
Aaron LaBrie gave up two-out singles in the seventh to bring on Foster Vielock. Indiana State’s Mike Fitzgerald loaded the bases with an infield single that shortstop Wes Phillips made a nice play on to smother, but had no throw. Vielock walked in the go-ahead run on a 3-2 pitch to Connor McClain.
WSU wasted good outings by Elam, who allowed one run, and A.J. Ladwig, who struck out eight to match his career high. He scattered 11 hits and didn’t walk a batter.
“They give you a chance to be in every game,” Butler said.
In the first game, Indiana State took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on back-to-back doubles and added two runs after a fielding error by Simpson at third base in the eighth. Ladwig gave up a leadoff double to Jacob Hayes in the fourth and Mike Fitzgerald followed with a double to right to give the Sycamores a 1-0 lead.
In the eighth, Ladwig had Fitzgerald at first with two outs when Tyler Wampler chopped a ball to Simpson. He caught it cleanly, then dropped it. Jeff Zahn smacked a double off the wall in right on the first pitch to score both runners for a 3-0 lead.
“Change-up, and he just hung it,” Zahn said. “I was just going to jump on something early, if I saw it.”
Zahn went 4 for 8 and drove in three runs. In the second game, he tripled off LaBrie to drive in Wampler with two outs in sixth.
The Shockers lost an MVC doubleheader for the first time since 2006, 2-1 and 7-5 defeats at Evansville. Freshman pitcher Aaron Shafer, as he did often that season, rescued WSU on Sunday. WSU needs Sam Tewes, also a freshman, to continue its roll of solid pitching. More than that, it needs its hitters to brighten up. Five Valley series remain and a third loss makes the race an uphill climb.
“You cannot get swept,” Butler said.